notes: post series.
i own nothing.


Memories

It was late. Definitely past midnight when Fakir carefully pushed the cottage door open, stepping inside and hoping that the hinges wouldn't repeat their habit of squeaking loudly under the pressure. The crickets outside softly sang their song, frogs soon joining in the chorus as he closed the door to drown out the sound and ran a hand through his hair.

He hoped Ahiru wouldn't be mad at him, even though she had every right. It was probably the third night in a row he had come back home late, which meant three night's worth of unfinished meals, and three night's worth of goodnight kisses missed. He hadn't been so careless since their old days back at the Academy, really—a time full of confusion, wrenching hearts, ink-stained fingers, and the image of a girl rising from the middle of a lake with her hair drenched and sticking to her shoulders. It had been years since he'd done anything like this, and back then….

They were angry with each other, at first. Her, because she was finally adjusting to her new life as a bird, and him because it was a complete accident and yet he couldn't hide the joy in his voice while she indignantly slapped him across the face. It turned into an argument of ethics, whether she really had the right to stay that way or not.

It was painful, yes. And it had escalated to the two of them not speaking to each other for days on end, with each day concluding on Fakir sneaking back into the house while treading past Ahiru's door with cautious footsteps so as not to disturb her sleep.

Keeping his place in front of the wooden door, his hand stilled on the metal knob as his expression turned somber.

That was years ago. His reasons for being scarce around the house were…different, now. Hopefully, when the time came, she would understand. She should understand. They trusted each other too much for her not to.

So much….

Focusing his green eyes, he caught a small crack meandering down the woodwork of the door's center, and a small curve made its place on his lips with the sight.

"Stop acting as though you trust me."

"But I do!" she rebuked, stepping closer with moisture forming in her eyes. "Fakir, I…I'm sorry, I've never stopped trusting you, but I thought we made a promise to each other and suddenly I can speak again and then you just disappear every day and I'm tired of holding it all in! I'm just—confused, okay?"

Her feet as duck-like as ever, Ahiru almost stumbled forward in desperation, fingers reaching out to grab at his sleeve.

The action was met with a sudden grasp of her wrist, his grip tightening almost harshly for a moment before he pushed it away, teeth gritting.

Fakir backed away, his shoulder coming into contact with the door as he lowered his face, expression hidden underneath his bangs. "Damn it, I know, alright? I'm a coward and I've always been one, and it's because of that that I can't even keep a goddamn promise to you. It's not as if I asked to be this weak!"

Ahiru shook her head, coming closer as if in a plead. "Y-you're not, I…" She bit her lip, the skin trembling in place. Every day that she found the chance to meet up with him always turned into this. Shouting matches and tear-stained cheeks and just more and more confusion and frustration. She was tired of it. Maybe Fakir was weak for going back on their vow, but then that just meant she was weak, too. And she knew Fakir would make her stronger, but this time he wasn't going to support her anymore.

She was tired of being aggravated. She was tired of being mad and hurt and confused every day. And she was tired of fighting with Fakir.

But even she had limits, and they were only finally able to break in on themselves when Fakir once again did everything in his power not to look at her. Her heart clenched as she tried moving closer but was only met with his stubborn inching away, head turned to the side. After a moment, though, that hurtfulness began turning into something akin to absolute aggravation.

With that, Ahiru allowed herself to release her pent up frustrations in a throw, launching her entire lithe body to his side and shoving him into the door on an upset scream. He shouted back in surprise and perhaps a grunt of pain—maybe she heard the crack of the wood, but she didn't care—Ahiru only grabbed at his shoulders and held him there, glaring through the wetness in her eyes.

"You know what? I'm SICK of this, Fakir! You say I shouldn't trust you, but I DO! And maybe that makes me an idiot, maybe I shouldn't, but I can't help it because we worked together back then and I know things can be better than this!" Her fingers clenched into the cloth of his jacket, uncaring of the shock in his face or the slight wince in his eye whenever she shifted her weight against the shoulder that had now undoubtedly bruised from the impact.

For a few moments, they were quiet. Ahiru waited for Fakir's response, but it was evident he had none, only blinking before opening and reclosing his mouth. He didn't even make any attempts to push her small body away from him again. Perhaps because it was the first time she had so violently shoved him ever since that day he locked Mytho in the library.

But it was with his silence that she found the courage to draw her next conclusion. Gripping against his clothes, Ahiru tried swallowing down the painful lump that had taken up residence in her throat. She pushed against him again, and finally found it within herself to speak.

"If you—if you're so sure that I shouldn't trust you, a-and you hate it when I'm around and only come back when it's dark out and I never see you anyway but when we do you're just a butt then turn me BACK!"

She practically screamed out the last word at the top of her lungs, raising her fists and pounding them against his chest. The notion itself made her eyes slam shut in frustration, and for several moments the room fell silent once again.

And finally, she heard him reply. But it was in a much more quiet voice than he had been using in the past few weeks. "…What?"

"Turn me back," Ahiru repeated, and the words felt more like poison on her tongue than she would have thought. She forced her gaze to fall to their feet, teeth clenched. She trusted him, even if he said she shouldn't. Yes, she was mad at first about everything, but that could have changed! Maybe she was an even bigger coward than he was for becoming attached to this form! But if he wasn't going to even be around long enough for her to get that out there, then what else was she supposed to do?

"You never yelled at me or said mean things back when I was a duck and I really miss that, so if you're just going to be a big jerk because I'm a girl then I'd rather be a duck again!" She tried not paying attention to how the revelation hurt—that he couldn't look at her with a smile on his face or say nice things or all of those things he did when she was a bird. All they did was fight instead. Her humanity wasn't worth that.

Instead, she felt him stiffening under her fists.

"No."

Ahiru froze in her spot, eyebrows curving downward. Then she shot her head back up on a glare. "You can't just—!"

"No."

And to her astonishment, his expression wasn't livid and condescending as she thought it would be. His eyes were slightly widened, his back had stilled, and she wasn't able to tell exactly what he was thinking in that moment. Especially with his refusal to change her back.

"W-well you always acted all annoyed and stuff when I was a girl anyway, so—"

"I refuse."

And it was on that sudden declaration when his hands sprung to life, clamping at her arms and tugging her even closer to him instead of pushing her away as she initially thought. His eyes were almost on fire, and his voice hung on an edge of…panic, almost. As if the mere fact that she would even bring up such a plan was terrifying to him.

It only made her even more confused, though.

"Wha-? Y-you never asked me if I wanted to turn back into a girl anyway! So I'm asking to turn back into a duck because I'm tired of being MAD all the time when I don't even know why in the first place and I miss seeing you when you're a lot nicer and—LET ME GO!"

"I WON'T."

And it was on that last bark when she suddenly felt his hands fly to her face, clamping down on her cheeks in the split second before he wrenched her closer and crushed his lips to hers almost desperately.

It was bruising, and he refused to allow her to pull away, even after she finally came down from the shock. He wouldn't let her out of his sight the entire night, actually. They were mad, disoriented, and scared at the possibility that she would go back to being a bird.

It was only on that suggestion when they both finally caved to their true feelings, admitting them to each other in a flurry of wet kisses and wrinkled clothes.

In all honesty, there were much better ways for Fakir to have gotten his feelings across. He shouldn't have let her asking him to change her back to be the catalyst. It was just that he felt such conflicting emotions over those weeks, his first reaction being joy at her changed appearance, only to morph into complete and absolute guilt when she turned around and grew upset that she was no longer in her true form.

Their interactions turned to nothing more than escalated bickering, which only became worse when he started coming in the house late at night just to avoid facing the fact that he made a gigantic mistake that she hated him for. A mistake that he didn't know just how badly he wanted to stay until she all but screamed out she wanted everything back the way it was.

It was only after that fateful night when they understood just how important it was to make their feelings clear. To each other and to others in their life.

It wasn't easy, but Fakir did his best. He was hardly the type of person with adequate communication, but he had to do everything in his damn power to make sure Ahiru never felt that he hated any part of her self.

He could still feel the bite in his shoulder after all these years.

With that, he finally released the doorknob and turned, slowly and quietly making his way through the small cottage. His reasons for coming in late now were drastically different from the last time, but he still wouldn't blame Ahiru for being upset. She was practically in tears over how much they fought back then, after all.

And then…well.

"Ahhhn…."

Fakir stiffened in his spot involuntarily the moment his eyes caught the old and worn down couch over in the sitting area. The fabric had been faded out and the cushions flattened down the middle from years of use, and yet the only moment he ever thought of near the furniture was the day they first….

They had physically been with each other so many more times after that, but he could still hear the echoes of her duck-like voice in his head as they explored for the first time in ways they only previously dreamed of.

Fakir eventually slowed to a halt in the middle of the room, his expression softening at the innocent image of the sofa. And suddenly, he could feel how heavy the weight in his pocket was.

Even to this day, he remembered everything. The warmth of her skin, the softness of her hair, her taste, the way she moved, her voice….

"Ah—ow…ow…."

"Sorry," he choked out on a gasp, breathing wavered and arms slightly trembling in support of his weight over her. The cushioning of the plush sofa beneath them sank with their weight as he felt her gently moving her hips to and fro, an action that almost had him moaning in the open air.

Fakir stilled as best as he could, teeth gritting from the trace amounts of friction gained from the slight adjustments. He could feel her stretching to accommodate him, letting him in and welcoming, and it was the most beautiful moment of his life.

"Mmn, it's…." she breathed out, her small light pants brushing against his shoulder. Her little fingers gripped at his arms tightly, leaving Fakir to do nothing more than hold her in return. It was foolish, but he couldn't stop the guilt reigning in from the fact that he was hurting her.

But a part of their new relationship was to teach him not to feel so guilty around her all the time.

And so it was several seconds later when he felt her relaxing, her grasp on his skin letting up just slightly and accentuated with a breathy and quiet moan.

It was right then when Fakir lolled his head forward to rest on her shoulder, and for the first time in years, he repeated that promise he made to her back when they were down in the Lake of Despair.

His voice was low and strained, but every syllable was spoken with purpose. Perhaps it wasn't the most opportune moment to have reminded her of it—most others would have vouched for something like 'I love you' instead. But in the end, that had always been the method in which he conveyed those feeling across, anyway.

Fakir allowed the memory to come and go as he stood there, remembering every creak and groan of the piece of furniture that night. It wasn't exactly the ideal place for him to have given himself to her. Fakir was no romantic, but at the same time he knew that he wouldn't have wanted the occasion to take place on some worn-down couch that was long due to being replaced, at any rate. Not as though he had many other ideas—hell, just his bed would have been better.

But something else he learned that night was that location didn't matter in the long run. As long as it was with the only person he ever wanted to be with in the first place. Because admittedly, he hardly paid any attention to their surroundings at all in the end. All of his focus was on Ahiru and the beautiful way she gradually eased into it.

Their first time definitely wasn't the ideal example. It was more than awkward. And at times Fakir felt like he was more of the stumbling idiot than Ahiru was.

It was still one of his fondest memories, though.

Their second time, however, somehow managed to be even more awkward—at least for Fakir.

First of all, he was left out in the open with no idea on what the hell to do. They had finally passed that barrier and given themselves to each other, but when it came down to it, he was left stuck on the proper protocol as to how it would all happen again. How long were they supposed to wait? What was he supposed to say? Was he supposed to have already gotten over how panicked and flustered he could get? How the hell was he even supposed to address it?

Romance novels and anatomy books seemed to only detail the initial emotions and bodily risks of a first time. Apparently after that, they were all left on their own. And it frustrated Fakir to no end—particularly the fact that he actually managed to devote so much time just into contemplating over it.

…In the end, however, Ahiru would be the one to initiate it.

Fakir may not have been in his room at the moment, but he could still see every detail as he made his way through the hallway. Still hear the ruffling of bed sheets, feel the very gooseflesh on her skin, taste her on the tip of his tongue….

It was raining. Only just enough to make a droning noise against the windows—hardly anywhere near the levels of a storm. There was no real reason for Fakir to be lying awake in bed, considering how late it was and that he had never been an insomniac, but no matter how much logic reasoned for him to be sleeping, he instead found himself staring out the window with half-lidded eyes. He watched the trails of rain slip down over the glass, the wind much more kind and gentle than it had been in months past.

The bedroom door had been replaced a while ago. So he wasn't able to register the soft movement of someone slowly cracking it open, and then tiptoeing across the room with a surprising subtlety. It was only when a light weight gradually sank on the side of his bed that Fakir even realized someone else was in the room.

He turned his head to see a head of red hair, and automatically pushed himself to sit up straight and look at her—a certain red already tinting his cheeks. "Ahiru?"

She immediately stilled, a look of guilt rising on her face. "I—I'm sorry…did I wake you…?"

Shaking his head, Fakir scooted to the side to allow her room to sit down more fully if she wanted. "No." He didn't know why he was still awake in the first place. After a moment, he studied Ahiru's features more closely, his eyes narrowing in the dark. Her own blue eyes were cast down to her lap as she took his invitation and slowly scooted in closer toward him. Her breathing was slow and deep, and she gave off their air that she was trying to calm down from something.

It was already concerning. Fakir didn't know her as one afraid of storms—but even so, he doubted the pitter patter of rain could have been what was keeping her up so late at night. And they had been together long enough for him to show no hesitation in voicing his thoughts directly. "…What's wrong?"

Ahiru bit her lip. Eyes averting from his own, she tentatively reached out to place a hand on his arm, and leaned down to rest her head against his. Fakir couldn't stop his face from warming even more from just that—it had been over a week since they first did…that…but even the gained experience couldn't stop him from feeling awkward and bashful with physical contact. Fakir did make a mental note to get rid of that habit as he waited for her response.

"I just…." Ahiru murmured, and then turned her head to bury it in the sleeve of his shirt. She took a deep breath, as if inhaling his scent, before she finally answered. "…M-mmn. Bad dream."

Fakir's eyes softened. And it then when he took his arm to wrap around her shoulder and tug her closer as if the movement was second nature. Ahiru eased into the position almost gratefully, giving a quiet sigh against his side as she placed a hand over his shoulder.

Admittedly though, the teen was never skilled in verbal comfort. He supposed the instance in the bottom of the lake was his only good example. But even so, Fakir leaned his head over hers, feeling her stubborn lock of hair brushing against his cheek. "…It's fine, now."

"I know," she responded. And then she continued, her voice growing quieter with every word. "But it…it was as if everything went wrong back then. The prince never got his heart back. Rue stayed sad forever. And you…." With that, her grip on his shoulder tightened, her knuckles quivering. Fakir could already hear the waver in her soft voice. "You…the Raven got you…like he was s'posed to. And you were b-bleeding everywhere…and I c-couldn't…. It was so bad…!"

At the first hint of a sob, Fakir made to wrap his other arm around her, pressed against the small of her back. He pulled her flush against him, breathing in the scent of her hair. "…It was just a dream," he reasoned. "None of that happened. You saved everyone."

Ahiru shook her head almost vigorously into Fakir's shirt, and he could feel the wetness of her building tears dampen the cloth. "I-I know, but it still hurt! Just seeing you like that, when I couldn't do a-anything…it still hurts," she admitted the last part in a mumble that he almost couldn't pick up on. "It was…s-so much worse than the f-first one…worse than the mime for death…."

It was the last part that made Fakir blink as he languidly stroked up and down her back. He didn't know if she expected him to know what she meant by that, or if she was just musing to herself. Either way, he continued on assuring her that it was all right.

More than anyone, Fakir knew what it was like to wake up from a horrible nightmare and still be disoriented on what was real or not. He was plagued with such dreams from the time he was small, after all. And about a very similar subject. The teen could remember such times when he would start in his bed with a cold sweat, and even after checking that the prince was still in his bed, it would take at least half an hour before he could really convince himself that nothing had happened yet.

Ahiru must have still been in that suspended awareness.

So when she stroked a hand down the length of his arm, Fakir allowed her to. She must have wanted to just feel his very physical presence—make sure he was real. There. He could still hear her quiet sobs and muffled hiccoughs, pressing her head into his shirt.

Fakir could sense her awkwardness about it when she turned to press a kiss on his arm. He let a quiet breath escape through his nose as he continued absently stroking up and down her back. In the next moment, he heard her expel his name from her lips in a sound that was barely audible as she leaned up to kiss his shoulder. Her hands began to wander. They were tentative—but almost curious—as her fingers lined up his arms, mapped out every single detail of his chest, and fluttered over his hips. Like his very existence was comforting in of itself. At least Fakir could try to understand her in that regard. Hell knew what he would do if he ever had a nightmare about Ahiru like that.

Her touches were making him feel shamefully warm, though. And when he marginally turned his head to the side only to suddenly be met with desperate lips pressing against his own, Fakir couldn't stop himself from automatically bringing his arms to wrap fully around her body and bring her closer.

As the night continued on, they eventually found themselves bare at each other's sides, neither below nor on top. He had his hands on her hips, guiding the rhythm, letting his small noises intermingle with her hitched breaths. The vice grip Ahiru had around his neck was almost painful to a degree, but he allowed her to cling to him, holding on as if he was the key that kept her grounded to reality. She whispered his name like a mantra against his ears, the caress bringing him closer and closer with every second.

Fakir knew by then that kisses could be warm and wet.

But after all these years, still nothing could compare to the feeling of her tears on his face.

Standing in front of the staircase, Fakir paused in his path, his jaw clenching and fingers slightly trembling over the contents of his pocket.

Ahiru was the catalyst that forever changed him for the better, but it still took a number of years before he could really bring himself to try to become someone she would deserve. Holding her in his arms that night, the air smelling of sweat and breath, he could remember for the first time leaning back and thinking he could actually become that person—really think he could do it.

It had been his goal ever since.

More days than others he would mess up. But the thing about growing and learning was that he wouldn't change if he quit. Ahiru was the one to teach him that in the first place, after all. She was worth it—always had been. He might have screwed things over by turning her back into a human, he might have made it all worse just by ignoring her, but ever since then he did his damndest to be the person she would be happy to spend the rest of her life with.

And it was all boiling down to tonight.

As he stood there and mused, something off to the side caught the corner of Fakir's eye right before he could take a step forward and continue up the stairs. The kitchens still had its share of a mess—of which he probably shouldn't blame her for since he was most likely the one to put her in a sour mood—but the dining table right in the center of the room was still set up, with plates and food in their regular places. Her side of the table had obviously been finished, though, with his set out and cold.

He could already see the angry pout on her face as she ate in silence. And suddenly, a part of him was almost a little hesitant. She sure as hell wouldn't be in any mood to listen to him, especially when he was acting similarly as he did in the past. Waking her up at this time of night would probably just make things worse.

…But another part of Fakir was anxious, now that he had finally obtained what he needed after three days.

Stepping forward, he idly took a piece of the bread from his plate and bit into it, chewing despite the obvious staleness from sitting out for so long. From the look of it, Ahiru only made soup that night. She wasn't exactly chef material, and back when they were younger she was rather terrible at cooking. But she was getting better.

Either way, she was still scatterbrained enough to completely forget about cleaning up her own dishes. Or maybe, Fakir thought in the back of his mind as he reached for her plates, she left them there on purpose for him to clean up. It was easy to see the curve to her eyebrows and just to her lips as she would stand up and completely ignore the table in favor of trudging up the steps to get ready for bed.

As Fakir made his way over to the sink to wash the dishes, though, he couldn't stop himself from smirking wryly as he passed by the oven.

Sure, the first several times they had been together were awkward as hell, but they gradually learned to be more relaxed around each other. And eventually, becoming some sick dirty bastard around her in their privacy almost became second nature to him.

Not that Ahiru ever had anything to complain about.

…Except when she did.

"H…hey! Watch where you're—!"

Ahiru cut herself off on a startled squawk as she lurched forward to catch a bowl of mixed flour and egg before whipping her head around and shooting Fakir a glare. "What are you doing?"

He didn't respond at first, instead choosing to dip down and run his tongue over the tip of her nose, which had been dotted in powdered sugar. She swatted his face away with a huff and tried to jostle forward, but was halted when his arms around her middle refused to budge.

"Hold still. Your face is covered, moron."

It had been quite a while since Fakir had called her by such a name, and he received a kick in the knee in reward for it.

"Well, you're making me almost spill everything, so—so hands off!"

"You're spilling everything on your own. I said hold still." His hands relocated to latch to her hips, his breath catching the curve of her ear. Fakir could practically feel the heat radiating off her face, and…well, it made him feel almost smug. He wasn't usually quite this forward when they weren't anywhere near the bedroom, and he was greatly enjoying the results he reaped.

"W-well I…." For a brief moment she relented, and Fakir could feel the smallest of shivers passing through his fingers. He leaned down to kiss below her ear, knowing that was a ticklish spot for her. She reacted accordingly, jerking her shoulder up to block any more access. And it was then when she finally seemed to find words again. "Not now! I'm trying to cook!"

Fakir gave almost a halfhearted shrug, lifting one hand to carefully grasp the edge of the bowl in her arms and pry it away from her, placing it on the far edge of the counter while his free hand explored her side in soothing strokes. "That can wait." Then he leaned his head down to the crook of her neck and shoulder. She could practically feel the quip to his lips against her skin. "You've never been much of a cook in the first place," he reasoned.

Ahiru gave another huff, stubbornly turning her head away and trying to wretch his wrists away. "Y'know, after all these years you can still be a really big butt."

While Fakir always looked more aghast after those sort of encounters and horrified at how his demeanor could warp like that, Ahiru would tend to laugh it off, reasoning that once a jerk, always a jerk. Fakir didn't necessarily like the idea of that being true, especially when it came to her, but it only ended with more of her giggles. Aside from himself, sometimes he really couldn't understand her.

Not that it mattered, in the end. If he could trust Ahiru to be comfortable with showing her clumsy, dorky self around him, then he could manage to trust himself with showing the darker sides, even if he would rather keep them shut away. They had gradually learned to appreciate all of each other, when it came down to it.

After he finished up in the kitchen, Fakir slowly made his way back over to the stairs, strategically avoiding any particular floorboards notorious for creaking and groaning in the dead of night. Nearing the steps, he reached in and pulled the little black box out of his pocket, keeping it in the safe security of his palm as if afraid it would shatter with the slightest jolt.

It was almost unreal, really. They had both changed so much when they were caught in the story—he wasn't anywhere near the boy that said angry words and kept people under his thumb once he began seeing to their own story with a duck in his arms. And Ahiru grew out of a simple duck that wanted the prince to smile into someone that wanted to give everyone the chance to live freely and happily.

And even after all of that, when they began writing their own story full of hope—they had grown. Ahiru was a woman who wanted to make those around her feel warm and welcome, and Fakir was the man who wanted to make her happy. Life wasn't perfect. They messed up. He still became plagued with guilt every so often. But he always did his best to not just shut it away like before.

He treasured each and every memory, despite the occasional fall.

And as Fakir finally began making his way up the stairs and headed to her room, he knew that tonight would be about setting those memories in stone.

And to continue making more with her for as long as he lived.

End